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Mudslide Death Toll Likely to Increase

At least 89 have died in the eastern Philippines, and many more are missing. Rescuers find families buried alive.

December 22, 2003|From Associated Press

LILOAN, Philippines — Entire families were buried alive in the mudslides that have killed at least 89 people in the eastern Philippines, said rescuers who were searching Sunday for more than 125 people who were still missing.

At least 71 of those killed were in the hard-hit central province of Southern Leyte, according to the National Disaster Coordination Center. The death toll was expected to rise as reports continued to be funneled to the government.

Some officials blamed years of illegal logging for the landslides, triggered by almost a week of pounding rain and wind in six provinces near the Pacific Ocean.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said most of the affected areas were near overlogged hills and mountains, and she urged officials to encourage reforestation to hold the soil on steep slopes.

Bad weather, blocked roads and downed power and telephone lines hampered efforts to reach survivors. Rescuers who made it through described digging up bodies of whole families buried together, including a mother embracing her children.

Southern Leyte Gov. Rosette Lerias said the mountainside village of Punta, with 360 people, was a scene of mayhem. More than half of its 83 houses were destroyed or buried under mounds of debris and coconut trees.

"There was mud all over. You couldn't see anything but rooftops with the houses submerged in mud," she said. "There's debris, wood, old clothes, kitchen utensils strewn all around." Lerias said an 89-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl were rescued. Both appeared to have survived in an air pocket, she said.

Meanwhile, government officials were coping with another possible tragedy as a ferry carrying about 70 people, including at least six children, was reported missing today, a day after sending a distress call.

The 63-ton ferry Piary left Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi, a cluster of islets in the Sulu Sea, for Brooke's Point on Palawan island, 443 miles southwest of Manila, on Saturday, the coast guard said.

At noon Sunday, the coast guard reported that the vessel had radioed to report that a hole had opened in its hull and the ferry was taking in water about halfway to its destination.

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